By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
KEAUKAHA — Justin Kenoi snagged his interception at around the 5-yard line and was off to the races. So was one very interested member of the chain crew — the mayor.
Father and son both ended up in the end zone, one with a touchdown and the other with a penalty.
Kenoi’s 90-plus yard return put the finishing touches on Panaewa Alii’s 24-8 victory against the Westside Eagles in the Pop Warner football semifinals at Hualani Park.
The Alii and their rushing attack were all business in the second half in scoring three times, but Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi provided a moment of levity late in the fourth quarter and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“That was pure daddy adrenaline,” the mayor said.
He dropped his down marker when his son made the interception, and then went in fast pursuit down the Panaewa sideline, turning to his left to enter the end zone after he crossed the goal line as flags flew. He said it’d been a long time since he was that excited.
“I saw him after I had the touchdown,” said Justin Kenoi, an eighth-grader at Kamehameha. “I saw him booking it. Pretty funny.”
Gehrig Octavio, Alec Shane Dalmacio and Kailikea Kekuawela each ran for touchdowns for Paneawa, which will face the Kohala Chargers for the Midget Division (ages 12-15) championship at 12:30 p.m. next Sunday at Waverider Stadium in Kailua-Kona. The Chargers beat the Puna Panthers 28-6 in the other semifinal, setting up a title game between the top teams from each side of the island.
After the game, Panaewa coach Sergio Mamone told his team to expect a tough week of practice.
“The road is going to get harder,” Justin Kenoi said.
The Alli relied on their passing game in going undefeated during the regular season against eastside teams, but Mamone felt the Alii needed to run the ball to beat the Eagles. That strategy largely failed in the first half, aside from Octavio’s 13-yard touchdown run on a quarterback keeper in the first quarter.
“Our offensive line was horrible in the first half,” Mamone said. “I think they’re used to beating everybody they play and didn’t expect to play a high-quality team like this. We made some adjustments, and the off-tackle play was open.
“The second half was all about our offensive line.”
Alii took control on its opening drive of the second half, riding Dalmacio and Kekuawela on a 57-yard drive that Dalmacio capped with a 1-yard run and a 12-8 lead.
Kekuawela led the way with 72 yards rushing, 68 of which came in the second half, while Dalmacio added 63 yards, 47 in the second half.
“First half, we were kind of tired I guess,” Octavio said. “In the second half, we woke up and played like were were capable of.
“We just run the ball to take the clock out. Our offensive line was good, but they can play better.”
The Waiakea High freshman completed two passes and added 57 yards running.
Kamakana Ching did a little bit of everything for Westside. Tall and fast, Ching accounted for the Eagles’ only score with a 38-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, he caught two passes for 43 yards and hauled in an interception.
Defensively, Mamone credited Hunter Rapozo, Sergio Ramone, Ethan James-Ramos and Iosaia Lavatai with shutting down the Eagles’ run game.
Westside quarterback Anthony Trevino finished 9 of 19 for 99 yards, but he was sacked three times and threw three interceptions, two by Justin Kenoi.
“I just was in the right place at the right time,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it without the rest of my defense.”
Cy Ezra Borges Apao also had an interception to set up Panaewa’s best drive of the game, a 79-yard, fourth-quarter march that Kekuawela capped by punching the ball in from 2 yards out.
In the Peewee Division (9-12 ) semifinals, the Keaukaha Warriors edged the Waimea Cowboys 20-19, and the Westside Eagles bested the Wailoa Razorbacks 20-12. The Warriors and Eagles will meet in the final next Sunday at 10 a.m. Sunday at Kealakehe High. The third-place games in the two divisions are scheduled for 8 a.m. and 11 a.m., respectively.